Sunday, 30 November 2008

Jupiter, Venus and the Moon

I was hoping for a clear sky this evening because the crescent Moon, Jupiter and Venus are all close to each other shortly after sunset. Unfortunately, despite a beautifully clear and sunny sky today, the clouds built up against the mountains and the western sky is obscured. It happens this time of year...

For those lucky enough to have a clear sky at sunset, look to the west-south-west on Monday night just after the sun has set. You'll see the Moon, Jupiter and Venus in the sky - you can't miss them, they'll be the brightest objects in the sky. You might even be lucky (or unlucky) enough to see the Moon occult Venus, i.e., Venus hides behind the Moon.

Report back to me if you see this, I suspect it'll be cloudy here again!

Battle of the paper bag

Followup from a "Cat in a bag".

Miss grumpy:
That doesn't look at all comfortable and she has a good reason for such an evil look; the paper bag is no longer in her possession and someone else is a little smug about possessing it:

After some hissing and snarling and a little negotiating, the bag is recaptured:

They'll be friends again tomorrow.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Christmas shopping on a volcano

Most people go Christmas shopping at the local mall but late this afternoon I went to an active volcano instead. My family in Europe love the videos produced by the Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park and so I drove up there late this afternoon to buy the latest DVD about the current activity. I'm sure I could have done this online but doing it this way was more fun.

Above is a panorama taken from the Kilauea overlook and I finally think I managed to get a decent panorama stitched together, even without using a tripod! To be honest, it was so windy I don't think a tripod would have helped, but at least the strong wind kept the plume from blowing over us with its rather poisonous sulphur dioxide (SO2).

I even took a video of the plume yet despite its short length, only 12 seconds, it's 35-megabytes and a bit beyond my dial-up capabilities, so perhaps later...

In lieu of the movie, a close up of the vent and plume:

On the way back to the car park, er, parking lot, the view of Mauna Loa was relatively good although it's a long way away.

After buying the DVDs my plan was, in the limited amount of daylight left, to drive down the Chain of Craters road to a point where I could take a picture of the lava entering the ocean. Unfortunately, the entry zone is a long way from the end of the road and a long hike is necessary at the moment (it changes from month to month, year to year) so I thought I'd at least get a shot from a point where the road starts to drop down the pali (Hawaiian for "cliff") and you get a decent look over the whole coastline. My optimism waned (as did my opinion of American spelling!) when I saw this...

...and the vog from the ongoing eruption at the Pu`u `O`o crater (Kilauea is currently active in two places). The view was going to be obscured and when I arrived it was confirmed; too much cloud and vog. On the other hand, while trying to get a decent photo of the lava entry from miles away, I turned around and took this instead:

Interesting colours to say the least, helped by some dust on the camera lense. The sun was starting to set behind some high cloud to the west and the thick vog was to the east. The coastline was dead ahead, about 1500 to 2000 feet below. I was starting to feel unwell...

I've lost count of the number of times I've visited the volcano and have never felt the effects of the SO2 and all the other nasty stuff in the volcanic plumes, but at this point I was getting a headache and my eyes felt as though I'd been rubbing them with sandpaper. Maybe I shouldn't have ignored all the warnings after all. So I headed back and I'm glad I did, because I saw a few sights I've not seen before.

You need to click on the image above, but it shows the volcanic plume from Kilauea being blown and twisted down the pali at sunset. The wind was so strong at this point that I gave up leaving the car and took the picture through the windscreen (USA translation: windshield). The vog was bad enough, but I also have very wiry and curly hair which I've not had cut for a couple of months now, and the wind was so strong I had a bit of an Albert Einstein look going on...

At this point I was lucky enough to witness the setting sun appear in a small gap in the clouds and Kilauea's plume. I love this shot (again through the windscreen):

Enough was enough. I really wasn't feeling well so decided to leave and not take any more photos, but I did try one more. There is a road that goes around Kilauea's crater but it's been closed for months now and this is one end of it. The blurring is not deliberate, it was completely accidental but I like the result, it looks quite interesting! It also looks a bit like the way I felt at this stage, so it really was time to go home.

There was, however, a quick stop to look back at the red sky on the way back to sea level. I saw this in my rear view mirror and just had to stop.

Kilauea sunset

The sun setting behind the plume from the Kilauea volcano earlier this evening. More to come...

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Hawai`i '78

During the commute this morning I was flipping between radio stations and found one playing the song "Hawai`i '78" by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, or "Bruddah Iz" to the locals. It's a beautiful and very moving song, I often get "chicken skin" when I hear it. I've even learned how to pronounce his name because his music is so wonderful!

When I first arrived in the islands one of the first things I did was visit a local music shop and asked if they would sell me a few CDs that were representative of Hawai`i and Hawai`ian music because I really didn't have much of a clue about local culture. I got one awful one which I've since lost (how did I manage to do that?), a couple of slack key CDs which are fantastic and one by Kamakawiwoʻole that blew me away, at least some of the songs did - the album was "Facing Future".

Israel Kamakawiwoʻole is a legend in Hawai`i. Sadly, he passed away in 1997 at the age of 38 just a few months after I arrived but I was struck by how much he meant to the people here. Of course he was a great singer and ukulele player, but he meant so much more to Hawai`ians. He was a believer in Hawai`ian independence yet held no animosity towards us haoles, indeed he simply seemed to love everyone. His importance to the Hawai`ian people was demonstrated at his funeral which was attended by thousands of people. The Hawai'i state flag was flown at half-mast that day and his coffin lay in state at the Capitol building on Oahu. He was only the third person in the state to be given this honour.

This evening I found this on youtube and hope you enjoy it. Some of the pictures and video aren't so good, but the song is wonderful.

Oh, and Hau'oli La Ho'omakika'i to everyone, or, in English, Happy Thanksgiving!

PS. My second favourite Iz song.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

For sale

A little while ago I wrote about the houses for sale in my neighbourhood; there are some fantastic looking houses with great views of the Pacific ocean especially at this time of year when we get some surf and the whales are returning from the Arctic. For some perspective, however, and for those not on a dial up, click on the image above to see all the "For Sale" signs. I was standing just to the left of the house with the blue roof in the picture below, about 20-yards from the surf crashing against the cliffs.

I didn't count the signs but several houses are up for sale. I don't know if they were bought by people who now need to sell them or were built by contractors during the housing bubble and cannot sell them in the current financial climate. What I can tell you is that most of these houses did not exist five years ago.

There are some stunningly beautiful places to live here such as this house right on the cliffs, a few hundred yards down the road from the first picture:

This photo is from Remax, the house looks like a perfect vacation getaway or somewhere for a retired couple to enjoy a work-free life together. It's a secluded spot with a great view of the Pacific (and I can confirm it's secluded, it's impossible to get a decent photo without trespassing, so I haven't got one). All you need is $625,000 and, in my opinion, a disregard of the tsunami threat.

I'm going to try and follow this one. I wish I knew what it was originally being sold for.

Then you get a little closer to home. Two or three years ago a family, or at least a group of people, started to build a house not too far away from my own. I don't know when they bought the land, but three years ago the land itself would have cost about $100,000. Ten years ago it would have been $15,000.

I passed them every day on the way to work. We'd wave but I never actually spoke to them - they didn't seem particularly interested in any social contact. I'd often pass what I assume was the mother or grandmother driving to the plot in the morning in a very expensive car. I'd wave to her but she'd never wave back and that's so unusual here, everyone acknowledges each other in this neighbourhood - even if you've never seen them before. It's part of what makes this such a wonderful and friendly place.

Today, their place looks like this.

The old lady no longer arrives in her luxury car every day, in fact I haven't seen her for months. I don't see the family out for walks with the dog anymore. I do, however, know someone is still living in a trailer there because I can hear them most evenings and see the lights turn on when it gets dark.

I suspect there's a very sad story behind this.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Cat in a bag

She knows how to deal with stress - hide in a paper bag and look cute. It works. I wish I could do the same.

Kilauea and Kalapana

I've little energy tonight, the last few weeks of fairly intensive work are starting to take their toll, but prompted by a question from Protege in "Burnt matches" I thought I'd post a link to the story I mentioned in that post's comments. I'll blog about this in the future and after I've regained a little energy.

Lava covers Kalapana

The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory site is utterly fascinating, I'd recommend a visit to anyone with an interest in volcanoes and their impact on Hawai`i.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Damp squib

Well, not even a damp one here. The predicted "prodigious rainfall" simply didn't happen. In fact not a drop of rain fell here today although some of the other islands got smacked. Still, the highest rainfall amounts, around 4-inches in the last 24-hours, really isn't such a big deal here unless the ground is already saturated.

Apparently it's snowing on the summit of Mauna Kea though: most if not all the observatories have been evacuated for the night and the road is closed to visitors. People have been trapped up there in the past due to the single summit road becoming impassable, so we prefer not to take chances.

Burnt matches

It's early morning and I awake to find someone has spent the night lighting matches and leaving them all over the house and yard. That's what it smells like anyway. It's foggy outside as well; the ironwood trees on the nearby coastline are usually sharp and well-defined from here but are cloaked in mist this morning.

The wind has shifted with the approach of a storm and is now blowing the plume from the Halema`uma`u crater at Kilauea's summit directly over the windward side of the island and we wake to a lovely dose of sulphur dioxide. I suppose it's only fair, most of the time the folks on the leeward side of the island have to put up with the vog, but at least it has to travel quite a distance before it gets there so does disperse a little. Here, it's only 20 miles or so from the volcano's summit so the vog is thick and and has a powerful smell of sulphur. The winds aren't forecast to shift for a few days so we'll get used to it I suppose.

Friday, 21 November 2008

It's a gecko party

What impressed me was how they all seemed to form a queue to get at the insects flying around the lamp - very civilised.

I don't know what all those white spots are - gecko droppings? They're not at all obvious until you use a flashlight. One or two of the geckos even seemed to include those spots in their camouflage.

The lunatics have taken over the asylum

I'm proud of my heritage and the rich history of the country I grew up in, but I now despair for a country that I believe is quickly going to the dogs - and forgetting the lessons of history and the very things it fought against decades ago.

The current UK government has been planning to introduce a national ID card scheme for some years now and although I haven't been following the debate closely, since I no longer live there, I found this article on the BBC site very disturbing.

Although ID cards will not be compulsory initially, they soon will and you'll have to pay a fee to get one - simply another tax on the already farcically over-taxed UK citizens. Then, if you forget to report a lost card or fail to update your details held on a government database, almost certainly a vulnerable one given this government's history, you will be fined £125 to £1000 (roughly US $190 to $1500). The government then have the gall to say:

"Civil penalties are not intended to be punitive or revenue raising as it will be in an individual's best interests for their information to be accurate."

Not intended to be punitive? This is a joke, right? Of course it will be in an individual's best interests to keep their details accurate otherwise they'll be punished.

To top it all, homeless people will be able to list as their residence the bench in the local park or a bus stop!

I often feel blessed to live in the USA. I know some freedoms have been lost since 9/11 and there are certainly things I miss about the UK such as a national health system, but the US people, and for the most part their elected leaders, still firmly believe in the rights and freedoms given to them by their written Constitution and its Bill of Rights. The UK, of course, has no written constitution.

Not too long ago I rediscovered an old Waterboys album of mine. I don't know if this group was well-known in the US but they were one of my favourite bands when I was a student. This album has a song I adore, "Old England", and I've been playing it in the car during the commute the last few days.

A man looks up on a yellow sky
And the rain turns to rust in his eye

Rumours of his health are lies

Old England is dying

His clothes are a dirty shade of blue

And his ancient shoes worn through

He steals from me and he lies to you

Old England is dying

Still he sings an empire's song

And he keeps his navy strong

And he sticks his flag where it ill belongs

Old England is dying


Thursday, 20 November 2008

Battening down the hatches

It was a beautiful day today, not too hot, lots of sunshine and the odd shower off the coast. The meteorologists, however, have been warning us for a few days now that things are going to change. In fact they did the other day, we did have some heavy rainfall but it didn't last long and as the KGMB weatherman reminded us today, it's the calm before the storm.

The National Weather Service (NWS) issued a flash flood watch early today for all the Hawai`ian islands. That means flooding is expected in the very near future. What will happen next is a flash flood warning meaning flooding is actually occurring. We get this every winter and sometimes it's a little over the top, the Hawai`i NWS page often lights up like a Christmas tree at this time of year with all the colours they use for different warnings. High surf, floods, summit winter conditions, high winds - then they issue warnings for each island so it sometimes looks as though it's the end of the world. Tonight, so far, all the islands are coloured green so it doesn't look too bad.

What troubled me is that the NWS forecast this morning, issued at 4am HST, actually said "prodigious rainfall". Now I see that the 8:30pm discussion is out, and it says:
The forecast discussion is here but it updates every six hours so you may not see what I'm reading right now, and of course each forecaster will use different words, but I've never seen that term used before in the forecasts. This is the place that in one spot in 2000 received 37-inches (94-cm) of rain in 24-hours. That storm took out every highway on the island as well as several houses. Only one radio station managed to keep broadcasting during the storm and I remember listening to it. What a day that was.

Now I'm worried!

The radar map above shows the storm approaching the western islands at 9pm HST. For those that don't know the state of Hawai`i, the five largest islands from west to east (left to right) are Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Maui and the Big Island. (I can name the others if anyone is interested!). Kauai and Oahu are going to be hit first and then the storm is forecast to hit all the other islands on Friday and Saturday and linger into early next week.

I think I'll postpone my plans for a weekend working in the garden...

Wednesday, 19 November 2008


I live in a house where the female-to-male ratio is not in my favour and consequently I get told when I've done something wrong, really wrong. I just wish I knew what it was, but I'm very sorry whatever it was...

Rainbow Isle

The Island of Hawai`i has three nicknames that I'm aware of: "The Big Island", "Orchid Isle" and "Rainbow Isle". It's certainly been living up to that last name during the last 24 hours or so. Yesterday evening, just before sunset, I caught the rainbow pictured in "Sunset rainbow" and at dawn today there were at least four separate rainbows that appeared in the north-western sky. Most were partial rainbows and not easy to photograph from my location, but I did catch the one above. Incidentally, what is the collective noun for a group of rainbows?

My main interest in astronomy is spectroscopy; splitting up the light from asteroids, comets, planets, stars and galaxies into its component wavelengths in order to identify and understand the physical and chemical processes occurring in space. Spectroscopy does, as you might imagine, become quite a technical and complicated technique in modern science and it can be easy to forget that the physics behind spectrographs is already employed by nature to produce some of the most wonderful phenomena one witnesses on our planet. Physics can be beautiful!

The shot below is another view of yesterday's sunset rainbow. As Hilary mentioned in her very kind comment on my post, the colours were vivid. That's often the case with rainbows here, I think it's because we have a lot of rain and very bright sunlight; there's little air pollution to dilute the sun's light (unless the winds are blowing the VOG this way from Kilauea). Yesterday's rainbow was made even more vivid by the dark and ominous-looking clouds just off the coast. What caught my attention with this one was that even though the rainbow was bright and fairly well defined, it appeared to cut-off just a little way above the ocean. It reminded me of Orson Wells' "The War of the Worlds" and the movie "Independence Day" - it was an alien death-ray beamed from a spaceship hiding in the clouds!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Sunset rainbow

A storm, just a couple of miles off the coast, approaches Kaloli Point at sunset.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Winter's approach

One of the webcams on the CFHT captured this strange looking image about an hour before sunset this evening. That's Gemini in the foreground right next to an ominous-looking wall of cloud.

The summit forecast for the next few days is dire and there's a good chance we'll get our first significant snowfall this winter:

"The tradewind inversion will remain elevated/indistinct near summit-level for at least this evening, then will likely completely fall apart allowing the air mass to become fairly saturated and unstable for the remainder of the forecast period. Consequently, there is a high risk for fog, ice and high humidity through the next 5 nights. Flurries, periods of heavy snow and thunderstorms are also possible, mainly for tomorrow and again around Thursday/Friday. Extensive afternoon clouds are expected throughout the forecast period."

You might want to keep an eye on the summit webcams if you're interested in seeing some snow on the summit, although many of them ice up in really poor conditions. Although we did get a little snow a few weeks ago it melted as soon as the sun rose, but assuming the current forecast is correct, then the snow might hang around for awhile since the temperatures won't get far above freezing and the clouds might prevent direct melting from sunlight. Good luck to anyone observing this week!

The mention of thunderstorms is the thing that makes me a little nervous. I used to love lightning displays, but my house has been struck several times recently by lightning, on one unforgettable evening three times in twenty minutes. I don't know if you've been inside a house when it's been struck, but it's a pretty frightening experience and now I get quite apprehensive whenever I hear thunder. Now, if I just figure out why my house seems to be such a lightning rod...

Sunday, 16 November 2008

"I'm bored"

I've been trying to teach the cats a bit of astronomy but I don't think it's been particularly successful or productive. Here's Bubbles during a lecture about Jupiter and she looks as though she's lost interest - just as I was getting to the exciting bit about comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 smashing into Jupiter's upper atmosphere. Perhaps I need to revise my teaching techniques.

Oh well, her loss.

Black Witch, or am I going to die?

This rather large friend is spending this evening on the lower lanai entertaining the geckos and my cats. I managed to catch a picture of it on the steps into the garden (hence the mess which I promise to wash next week!). There's little in the picture to give scale, so to help I would estimate the wingspan to be about 5 to 6 inches (roughly 12-15 cm).

If I have my identification correct it's a Black Witch moth (Ascalapha odorata). It's not as colourful as the beautiful moth/butterfly Alice pictured recently, but it has a somewhat morbid reputation in many areas, hence the name. Apparently, it's a harbinger of death in Mexico and the Caribbean. In Hawai`i, though, it's supposed to be the soul of a recently departed loved one returning to say goodbye, so perhaps I'm safe for the time being. I must have loved a lot of currently deceased people in the past because these guys are fairly regular visitors to the lanai. It's the first time I've actually managed to take a picture of one though.


Apologies for the poor quality of the picture but Lou Minatti has been annoying me recently by blogging about the gas prices in his area. Only kidding of course, Lou, but I wish you would stop! Finally, however, the price of gasoline dropped through the $3 barrier here. Wahey! I suspect we're now only paying about twice as much as Lou does...

I do apologise to any European readers though, $3 a gallon must sound as if gas (petrol) is almost being given away.

The best laid plans

On the way back from forgetting most things I'd set out to do today, I stopped off at one of my favourite spots. The intention was to take a panoramic image of the area I live in with a view of the Pacific. At least I remembered to do one thing - I brought along the camera.

Now I shouldn't tell you this, but this is my third attempt to get this right, but I'm probably a slow learner. There was, however, the promise of a sunny sky, little wind and a few minutes spare to stand alone on the cliffs and annoy the anglers by taking photos again - they're getting used to me I think.

My intention was to take an image that I could use at the top of this blog much like Keera's wonderful image in "A Roll in the Universe".

I still haven't got it right.

After swearing at the software this evening I then realised what the problem was - taking a panorama of the ocean is very difficult because it has waves, and of course the software can't deal with this because they're in different places in every shot. So I turned to the help page and found out how to stitch the pages together manually, only to then find I'd have to pay $30 to get this option.

Oh well, I'll find another way.

Saturday, 15 November 2008


Today didn't go as planned but they rarely do these days. It was going to be a day of what Americans call yard work, what the British call gardening and what I call working in the sweat-bucket. I hate labouring in mid-80s temperatures and 80% humidity. I just don't see how this is fun yet many people do.

Anyway, I'd planned to work the morning in the yard trying to figure out what needs to be done after the year we've had here - I described a bit of the problem in "Dust bowl". After that I'd drive to Hilo to see what Home Depot had that might help and then end the day weed whacking the yard. I got the last thing done, but not completely.

The problem was that I woke up earlier than usual and in a mood to take photographs, and the plan went tits-up after that. So the morning was spent taking a few photos, watching college football and then realising I was out of toilet paper and propane - oh, and food for the next week. So after showering off I went to the shops and by the time I got back there was just enough time to get the weed whacker out and do a really quick hack job on the property. Not one of my better pieces of work either, but the smell of freshly cut moss made up for it...

Now for the picture show - despite my garden having a hell of a time in the last few months from flooding and extreme drought, some things have survived. Here they are during my tri-annual exercise of trying to remember or work out what all the plants are called:

A pink hibiscus, and if you look closely, a welcome visitor inside.

A red hibiscus which aren't quite as common in my yard, but there are a few still around. Unfortunately, I don't have any yellow hibiscus flowers which is the State's flower, but apparently they're quite rare these days.

A yellow flower. I have no idea what it is - allamanda?

They grow on vines which is why I thought of allamanda, but I really don't know. Here's me looking as if I know something about flowers, and I only know the name allamanda because I found it in a book this evening...

No need to look this one up in a book, it's an orchid. This island is also known as the Orchid Isle so no intellect needed from me to work it out. It's way out of season though.

This is soul-destroying, it's the front yard. A year ago this was a lawn, now it's dirt, exposed roots, a bit of grass and some plants that managed to live through the floods and drought. This is where I plan to turn things around in the next few months - if only I had some idea of what to do. I'm not sure I should bring in new soil yet because if we get rains like last winter, and the long range forecast is that we might in the new year, then it'll all get washed away again.

One part of the yard that's been thriving is the part fronting the road, although thanks to the subdivision authorities' decision to re-surface the road, my little bit of lawn out there has disappeared under gravel. The result is that when I try and weed whack the stuff that is growing through the surface it turns into a tornado of grass, weeds and stones - my shin is full of cuts and bruises this evening! The debris from my work today can be seen on the road.

Finally, a picture taken this morning, before those weeds were removed, of the mystery fruit tree described in "Your starter for ten". The pink/purple stuff belongs to something else growing in the same place, a crimson bougainvillea I believe, and yes, I had to look that up as well. I'm hoping this might help Hilary of "The Smitten Image" who was kind enough to try and help identify my mystery fruit (Hilary's blog is superb and well worth a read!). We're both still at a bit of a loss though.

Oh, and as usual I forgot the toilet paper.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Autumn sky

I don't really have much to say about this one, I just like it. The moon is rising behind the clouds and the ironwood tree. The back-lit clouds are amazing. I love evenings like this as long as I'm at home. If I was at work I'd be swearing. Well, perhaps not, but I might stick my finger up against all those Autumn-huggers: you know who you are!

I'm still jealous...

New planets: so what?

I've not had a lot of time to catch up with the news today, but did notice that the BBC and CNN had headlines about the latest big news in astronomy, the first images of planets around another star - "exoplanets" for want of a better name. I'm also a little confused because I blogged about a similar discovery a few weeks ago in "A long way away", but I need to read the actual papers first to understand my confusion.

This is clearly a major step forward in astronomy, but it might be worth reading a somewhat more cynical view from a cosmologist in "When you've seen one planet....". Well, that's science and astronomy, we all hold different views about what's important or not. I'm an astronomer that's interested in the Galaxy and has also indulged, occasionally, with the Solar System as well. Peter's a cosmologist and is interested in the universe itself.

In this case though, I actually lean towards Peter's view. We already know planets orbit other stars so what's the big deal? On the other hand I do feel this is a significant moment in observational astronomy. Given the opportunity I would certainly be proud to be the person who first imaged a planet around another star, but is this real science? It is just taking a picture after all.

What's significant, in my opinion, is that we can now do this.

Imaging planets around other stars is very difficult - it requires telescopes with technology we didn't have a few years ago - telescopes with current capabilities that the designers, engineers and astronomers didn't have in mind but have been implemented nevertheless.

Whether you're solar system expert, a Galactic astronomer, a cosmologist or just someone who's interested in astronomy, I think you have to agree that this is worth a little media attention.

Tulips in November

Several of my friends and lots of other people have been publishing their pictures of Autumn and it's making me very jealous. Autumn was always my favourite time of the year in the temperate UK because the colours were outstanding, but here everything just stays green and if it's not still alive, rots very quickly, turns brown and smells nasty. What's worse, the weather this year has been pretty awful here (as I described in "Dust bowl"). Tremendous flooding early this year and then a drought. My garden has died.

It's also now the time of year that the weather on Mauna Kea's summit starts to become a little dodgy and the current forecast doesn't look good. I don't think there's much doubt there'll be some snow up there in the next few days, but it's still not late enough in the year for the summit temperatures to get really low, so the snow should melt quickly. I don't think the next week of observing will be particularly productive, but some of us will be up there anyway on other projects.

So, to get back at all those people posting those wonderful pictures of Autumn trees, here's mine - a tulip in November of all things. It's one of the few things still thriving despite the unfriendly climate this year.

As you might have guessed, these aren't really tulips at all, but a picture of the flowers on an African Tulip tree that's in the yard. I had to look it up, but the proper name is "spathodea" which doesn't sound as nice a name to me. There are one or two other survivors here but I'm dreadful when it comes to remembering names, so haven't a clue what they're called, instead here's another view of the tulips instead.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Size does matter

"[...] I'll try again in the future with a tripod. This camera actually came with one but it seems to be designed for people no taller than 6-inches and I'm considerably taller than that."

I wrote that in "A rooftop view". To say I was a little disappointed in the new tripod would be an understatement, but the good news is that I knew I had a proper one somewhere, I just couldn't find it and had absolutely no idea where I'd put it. I remember shipping one from the UK when I first moved here 12-years ago. Yes, I wanted to learn how to take photographs that long ago but just never got around to it.

The old tripod has just been found, and you can see it in the picture above. You'll have trouble seeing the other, new tripod which is to the left. I mean, come on. That's not a tripod, it's an ornament.

That carpet needs a bit of a clean as well.

Kaloli Point moonrise

I'm slowly getting to grips with my camera but there are a gazillion settings to learn and it's going to take a long time. After I learn how to use one of them I then forget, half an hour later, how to get to it via the camera's menu. I guess I'm getting to that sort of age.

The one thing I really do want to try is getting an image of the Milky Way from home on Kaloli Point as the night sky is stunning from here, even down at sea level. On dark nights one doesn't even have to be dark adapted to see the Galactic plane and its dark lanes - it helps that there are no street lights and no big cities nearby. Unfortunately, it's been pretty cloudy since my camera arrived so I haven't had the chance, so instead I tried my luck taking a picture of the nearly-full moon rising over Kaloli Point this evening. Not too bad for a complete beginner...

Monday, 10 November 2008

Poppy day

A picture by Fir0002.

I don't think poppies are a symbol of Remembrance Day in the USA (called Veterans Day in the US), but they are in the UK, Europe and countries around the world.

Thank you for making my dreams and millions of others possible. Your sacrifices are still remembered today and I hope they will never be forgotten.

Midnight Sky

A little while ago I wrote about a group of astronomer-musicians and an excellent video they made called Hotel Mauna Kea, a parody of the Eagles' "Hotel California". I didn't realise at the time though they had recorded another video while visiting Mauna Kea called "Midnight Sky". Take a look when you have a few minutes to spare, it's very good and what a voice!

Sunday, 9 November 2008

A rooftop view

It's been an eventful day even if it was a Sunday and I tend to watch the NFL all day. I decided to tidy the downstairs area while watching the violence and as usual left it untidier than ever, but the refrigerator looks as good as new - at least from the outside. After relaxing for a short while I did some smaller tasks I'd been planning for ages such as working out the eyebrow trimmer that I received for free with my latest shaver. I managed to slice my thumb open with it, but come on, who hasn't done that in the past?

After I cleaned up the blood it was time to figure out my new camera. I haven't treated myself for over six months and finally decided to buy a new digital point-and-shoot camera which arrived on Friday. Fortunately my bandaged thumb wasn't needed for this, but I think I might need to visit one of our urgent health clinics tomorrow to see if I need stitches. Then I'll sue the manufacturer just like any decent American.

This thing is incredible, I had no idea how much digital photography had progressed, but right now it's also a little beyond me. The 160-page manual isn't written particularly well although it doesn't appear to be a direct translation from Japanese, so I think I'm in with a chance. It's going to take a few months to really understand the capabilities of this thing though, which seem infinite.

So, since the local NBC channel was broadcasting the Sunday night game without any sound (again), I thought I'd try out the camera for the first time during sunset and from the roof - the lower portion of it and hence not so much vertigo and the shakes due to being one misstep from certain death, or at the very least an inconvenient paralysis.

The optical zoom is fantastic (x18) and with digital zoom I can get it to x78 but with that mode it can't deal with camera shake too well. Who cares? My last camera managed x3 and it was ahead of its time when I bought it during the stone age. No one even thought of dealing with camera shake digitally in those days.

From left to right, and a very, very long way away, there's the UKIRT, the UH88 inch, Gemini and the CFHT. Until now I had no idea I could actually see the UKIRT from home, I'd never seen it from here even with binoculars. The image is a little blurry and I'll try again in the future with a tripod. This camera actually came with one but it seems to be designed for people no taller than 6-inches and I'm considerably taller than that.

Perhaps, ten years from now, I'll buy a camera that will actually image the tourists up there from home. I'm sure there were hundreds of them there this evening enjoying the sun sink below the clouds. It's always an amazing sight.

Finally, the fear of falling off the roof took over so I left and went out into the yard to see if there was anything interesting to photograph. There wasn't much to be honest, it was getting dark, but I did get this last photo, Venus and clouds at sunset from Kaloli Point through the utility cables:

I'm going to have a lot of fun with this thing but suspect I won't figure out how to use it properly for several months. Then, perhaps, I'll start on the four software packages that came with it...